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Monday, 22 September 2014

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Bishop of Carlisle blesses opening of Cumbrian college dairy

A £2.4 million state-of-the-art dairy has been unveiled – 13 years to the day after the farm it stands on was wiped out by foot and mouth disease.

Newton Rigg dairy photo
Herdsman Wayne Stead and Sarah Sutton, assistant herdswoman

The flagship unit is a major investment by the Newton Rigg College, near Penrith.

It will run as a commercial operation, with up to 180 cows, and provide hands-on experience for about 400 students.

The first of its kind in the UK, the unveiling of the dairy marked the return of a herd of milking cows to the college’s Sewborwen’s farm.

Lord Donald Curry of Kirkharle performed the opening ceremony, followed by a blessing of the dairy herd by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Rev James Newcome.

The initiative has been applauded at national level, including Farming Minister George Eustice who said young farmers were the lifeblood of the industry and the rural economy.

About 400 invited guests witnessed a first for Bishop James, who said: “The opening of this dairy heralds a significant investment in the future of farming in our county.”

The dairy has 164 milking cubicles and a mezzanine viewing gallery. Some 70 different groups from across the country have already asked to look round the dairy unit, ranging from Young Farmers’ Club members to industry and agricultural discussion groups.

Lord Curry told the invited audience that in the last 10 years more than 10,000 dairy farms with in excess of 4,000 cows had disappeared nationally.

“Many salt-of-the-earth dairy farmers have gone, remarkably our milk production is the highest for 18 years,” he said.

He added that the new dairy provided a first-class facility for students, and for farmers generally. “It is also all the more poignant as it marks the return of the college’s herd since it was lost to FMD in 2001.”

One man who remembers those “dark” days, as he refers to them, is 75-year-old dairy farmer Jamie Fisher.

His son Jonathan is now farming manager overseeing the dairy side at Sewborwens Farm.

“We have been associated with Newton Rigg and its farming since 1945 and to see Jonathan here has made me very proud,” said Mr Fisher, who lives on a neighbouring farm.

In August 2011, York-based Askham Bryan College took over the running of Newton Rigg with the promise to put agriculture back at its heart.

Students from both York and Penrith campuses and the college’s other centres across the north of England will use the new facility as part of their degree, diploma and apprenticeship studies.

Chief executive Liz Philip said: “Young people study with us from across the north of England and agriculture is very much the tap root of the education we provide.”

College principal Wes Johnson said the number of students studying agriculture at Newton Rigg had doubled in the last three years.

In 2011 there were 305 students and apprentices, today the number is 630.

The major milestone is part of a £3m investment programme for the college.

The unit also incorporates the latest environmental technology, including solar panels and rainwater collection.

The college has five farms totalling 2,400 acres.

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